Shoppers are spoiled for choice when choosing which milk to add to their basket.
While cow’s milk remains Britain’s favourite, all major retailers offer a range of non-dairy alternatives, including oats, soya and almonds.
But with this overwhelming amount of options, it can be hard to know which one is best for your health.
Dr. Duane Mellor, one of Britain’s top nutrition researchers, told MailOnline that it’s the dairy options that provide the most nutrients, protein and natural sugars.
While many switch to plant-based milks as part of a vegan diet, citing health, ethical or environmental reasons, this option lacks essential vitamins, he said.
Many plant-based milk alternatives, such as the almond, soy, and oat milks pictured above, contain fewer vitamins than cow’s milk unless they are fortified
Cow’s milk is the most caloric, but also naturally contains higher levels of calcium, protein, B12 and iodine
Whole cow’s milk contains more calories and saturated fat compared to plant-based alternatives, with 132 calories and 4.8 g of saturated fatty acids in 200 ml.
However, semi-skimmed cow’s milk, the most popular choice in the UK, has slightly less, with 100 calories and 2.2g of saturated fatty acids per 200ml.
Dairy products make up about a quarter of the saturated fat in people’s diets in the UK. Consuming too much increases your risk of high cholesterol and heart disease.
As a result, women are advised to limit their intake to 20g per day, while men should have no more than 30g, health chefs say.
Plant-based milk contains a fraction of the saturated fat in cow’s milk and may contain only half the calories.
Almond milk contains 0.2 g of saturated fat and only 50 calories per 200 ml.
Similarly, soy milk contains 0.6 g of saturated fat and 84 calories, while oat milk contains 0.4 g of saturated fat and 94 calories in the same serving size.
Despite this, experts say that cow’s milk is actually healthier for you.
This is because dairy-free options lack naturally occurring vital nutrients.
Cow’s milk contains calcium, which is essential for healthy bones and teeth, and protein, which is necessary for growth and repair. It also contains B12, which helps the body make red blood cells, and iodine, which helps make important thyroid hormones.
Plant-based alternatives may contain fewer nutrients unless the drink is fortified.
Registered dietitian Dr Mellor, from Aston Medical School, Birmingham, said: ‘Perhaps the biggest nutritional difference is in vitamins and minerals.
“While many have added calcium, the levels of vitamin B12 and iodine vary considerably depending on how much is fortified in the plant-based milk alternative.”
“It’s important to carefully check organic versions because they tend to have the lowest levels of fortification with these important vitamins and minerals.”
Cow’s milk is also packed with more protein than dairy-free options, with 7.2 g in part-skim and 7 g in a 200 ml serving of full-fat options.
While the same size glass of soy milk contains about 6.5 g, almond and oat milk only contain about 1 g of protein.
This means that some options barely contribute to the daily protein intake recommendations that people consume Every day 0.75 g of protein per kilo of body weight.
According to this comparison, the average woman needs 45 g, while a man needs 55 g.
Plus, the sugars in cow’s milk are also better for you, says Dr. Mellor.
While the dairy option contains about 9g of sugar per 200ml glass and plant-based options range from about 0g to 6g, the sugar in milk, called lactose, is natural.
Health chiefs advise against cutting back on natural sugars, which are also found in fruits and vegetables.
Dr. Mellor said: ‘In cow’s milk, the sugar is just lactose that is digested slowly, while plant-based milk alternatives can be sweetened with fruit juice or added sugar.
‘Added sugars are digested quickly and are therefore considered less healthy.’
Last month, experts predicted that trendy vegan brands would be wiped out following a collapse in demand for cruelty-free food and drink.
Swedish oat milk company Oatly is one of the latest victims, having had to withdraw its dairy-free ice cream in the UK.
Yorkshire sausage maker Heck has reduced its vegan range from ten to just two.
Supermarket meat-free sales fell by ?37.3 million in the year to September, NielsenIQ analysts found.
Other brands in the trendy sector now needing to slim down include Innocent, the smoothie maker, which discontinued its dairy-free range earlier this year.
According to NielsenIQ, customers appear to have started cutting back on meat substitutes as inflation increased.
From cow’s and oat to soya and almond – dietician reveals which milk is really best for health